Figuring out how the world works, for the sake of knowledge itself, is a vital human endeavor. Scientific research, both fundamental and applied, is absolutely necessary to the functioning of our societies and species. It can also be a wonderful occupation, with the joys of problem-solving, discovery, and collaboration with smart and enthusiastic people. While today’s scientific enterprise has many problems (yesterday’s probably even more so), I consider it a privilege to be paid to solve interesting puzzles about the brain.
With this privilege of doing science comes the responsibility of doing it well (or at least, in the best way we can). We’re responsible to taxpayers for getting the most out of their hard-earned euros; to our academic communities for not mislead each other purposefully or waste time on dead-ends; and to ourselves for spending our time well.
See also the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, which lists the following principles as guidelines:
- Reliability in ensuring the quality of research, reflected in the design, methodology, analysis, and use of resources.
- Honesty in developing, undertaking, reviewing, reporting, and communicating research in a transparent, fair, full, and unbiased way.
- Respect for colleagues, research, participants, research subjects, society, ecosystems, cultural heritage, and the environment.
- Accountability for the research from idea to publication, for its management and organisation, for training, supervision, and mentoring, and for its wider societal impacts. From: ALLEA
To maximize the usefulness of our science, we must do our work ethically and openly. This means being honest (with ourselves and others), transparent, and always open to learning and improving how we work. Collaborate, don’t compete.
Make your work accessible. Publish your paper as a preprint (on bioRxiv, arXiv, psyArXiv or OSF); choose open-access journals; avoid Elsevier when possible; get on Twitter/Mastodon and write accessible summaries of your findings: it’ll even help your career.
Choose open-source. Some of the best investments I’ve made were to switch from Mendeley to Zotero, from Matlab to Python, and from Evernote to Obsidian. Don’t waste your time learning the ins and outs of expensive, proprietary software (please, no SPSS) when free and open alternatives are available. Note: I’m a hypocrite on this point when it comes to Illustrator, which I must one day replace.
Accept that error will occur, and be open about them. Errors are an integral part of science, and we will implement best practices to minimize them: keeping a detailed log of decisions about each project; using checklists for data collection; a ‘code buddy’ who reruns all the analyses using the same data with a new pipeline before submission. Most importantly: “When mistakes happen (or nearly happen) in the lab, it’s a great opportunity for us to figure out how to make our systems work better. Tell Anne about it right away and we’ll use what you found to improve the work we do.” (Strand, 2023)
Since I’ve started my career, best practices have changed immensely - and I’m not even that old. See here for a take on open science practices from my time as a PhD student. Keep up with the latest developments, and think about ways to improve the work we do. I’m committed to keep learning and improving, and I enourage my students to tell me about the latest developments (and let me know when I’m becoming hopelessly old-fashioned).
As colleagues and members of academic communities (in our research field, university and department), everyone deserves to be treated fairly and respectfully. Unfortunately, science is not immune to sexism, racism, harassment and general bigotry.
We strive a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere and encourage open and honest intellectual debate, which allows everyone in our local and international communities to do their best work and be respected. Call out misconduct when you see it; you can always approach me, or other faculty members in the department.
Take care of yourself: research can be exhausting (and a lot like learning how to surf). As Weiji Ma has said: we’re professional doubters, so doubting ourselves is a real occupational hazard. A certain amount of impostor syndrome is normal, and you will almost certainly find yourself in the valley of shit at some point. Research can be tedious, frustrating and boring, scientific setbacks are normal, and peer review can be downright hostile. Don’t let those define your sense of self-worth: you are not your job!
To stay sane and grounded, remember you’re a whole person: don’t neglect your life outside the lab. Spend time building and maintaining relationships, both inside and outside science: while enthusiasm over results, paper and grants will fade over time, your peers and friends will not. This podcast episode has great advice on career satisfaction and well-being.
If you struggle with mental health, know that you’re not alone, and that resources are available. Leiden University has counsellors and student psychologist services that you can use freely and confidentially. Frisse gedachten provides low-threshold chats and buddy-systems in Dutch. You can always talk to me about any professional or personal circumstances, for advice, or to point out ways in which I should improve/change my ways.
I value a broad look at the field, at academia, our scientific community and society. I write and act on topics such as climate action, gender equality and the functioning of our university. I am always happy to talk about these, and I encourage you to explore such topics beyond your immediate project.